The company in charge of building Cincinnati's streetcars says the city would incur substantial costs if it cancels the streetcar project after it's already gone through some construction and design work.
The Nov. 30 letter from CAF USA Vice President Virginia Verdeja to former Mayor Mark Mallory arrived just one day before Mayor John Cranley, who opposes the streetcar project, and an anti-streetcar majority were sworn in.
"CAF will have to recover all the incurred expenses as well as all the additional cost of cancelling the contract, which would be substantial too," Verdeja writes in the letter.
The letter explains that, on top of the sunk expenses on design work, cancellation would require CAF to pull back on various established deals with subcontractors, which would spur further costs.
For streetcar supporters, the letter renews fears of litigation that could crop up if the project were canceled and contractors decided to pursue their full payday. Those legal costs would fall on the already-strained operating budget that pays for day-to-day services like police and firefighters instead of the capital budget that finances big capital projects like the streetcar, according to city spokesperson Meg Olberding.
On Nov. 21, Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick warned the costs of canceling the $132.8 million streetcar project could nearly reach the costs of completion after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November, a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grant money that would be lost if the project were terminated.
Earlier on Sunday, hundreds of streetcar supporters rallied in Washington Park and walked the planned streetcar route in support of the project. They're threatening a referendum if the new City Council moves to pause or cancel the project.
City Council plans to vote on pausing the project on Monday. Because of threats from the federal government that a mere delay could lead to the loss of federal grants, streetcar supporters claim a pause would equate to cancellation.
Read the full letter below:
Updated at 6:13 p.m. with the PDF of the letter.
That didn’t take long.
Less than 48 hours after it was revealed that the Ohio Ethics Commission issued an advisory opinion last year stating Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Bortz shouldn’t take part in decisions about a proposed streetcar project, a formal complaint has been filed with the commission.
UPDATE 11-8-12: An aide to Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls tells CityBeat that the $7 million loan will only go toward moving two of the shelters: the Drop Inn Center and a new women's shelter to be operated by the YWCA. Because the City Gospel Mission requires a religious component to is outreach to the homeless, it cannot receive federal funding. The original story follows below.
City Council on Wednesday signed off on a plan to apply for federal loans to help move three Cincinnati homeless shelters to new locations.
Council members voted with all but one approving the application for $37 million in loans, $7 million of which would move the Washington Park-area shelters.
If the loan is approved, the City Gospel Mission would move to the West End, a new women’s shelter would be build in Mount Auburn and the Drop Inn Center would move to a yet-undetermined location.
Cincinnati had pledged $10 million toward relocating the shelters. The loan would be paid back at $532,000 a year for the next 20 years.
Councilman Chris Smitherman was the sole dissenting voice. He said he supports the homeless, but he is wary of the risks of the loan and the city’s ability to pay it back.
Councilman Chris Seelbach, who said he moved to Over-the-Rhine shortly after the 2001 riots, voted to approve applying for the loan, but also voiced some concern.
“The reason I moved is because I loved it; I fell in love with the diversity of the neighborhood,” he said, noting income diversity as well as racial and ethnic.
“I would hope that we could find a location for the Drop that is in Over-the-Rhine and there isn’t a continued effort to push low income people out of Over-the-Rhine.”
Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, said the shelters the city has now are perfectly adequate and the money could be spent better developing affordable housing and creating jobs to help eliminate homelessness.
“Historically a majority of shelters started between 1982 and 1990 because in that era we cut dollars to housing and employment,” Spring said.
“Shelters were never created to end homelessness. Shelters were created for people to have a safe place once everything else had failed them. We shouldn’t let everything else fail them.”
In the heated debate over budget cuts at City Hall, several groups are alleging Cincinnati City Councilman Jeff Berding is “two-faced” and told various individuals during his 2009 campaign that he would end his support for the proposed streetcar project.
Cincinnati inched closer to equality after moving forward Monday with a measure that would allow city employees in same-sex and other partnerships to receive health insurance benefits.
With a push by Chris Seelbach, the first openly gay councilman in Cincinnati, the measure passed the finance committee with the support of all council members except Charlie Winburn, who abstained.
The approval came after a city report found that same-sex benefits could cost as much as $543,000 a year if 77 partners took advantage of the benefits.
The report suggested City Council mimic a system already in place in Columbus, which requires partners to prove financial interdependency and that they have been together for six months.
If the measure passes City Council, Cincinnati would be more caught up with other cities, states, countries and companies that already grant health benefits to same-sex couples. Earlier this year, the Human Rights Campaign estimated that 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies offer health benefits to same-sex couples, including Procter and Gamble and Fifth Third Bank.
Altogether, it seems like a small step toward equality. What’s unfortunate is none of it would be required if same-sex marriage was legal in Ohio. If it was, same-sex couples could get marriage benefits, including health-care coverage.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine on Tuesday approved the petition language for an amendment that would overturn Ohio’s 2004 ban on gay marriage. The new amendment would define marriage as “a union of two consenting adults, regardless of gender.”
The amendment now moves forward to the Ohio Ballot Board. If approved, it will then require 385,253 signatures from registered voters and, finally, voter approval.
Ohio banned same-sex marriage in 2004 with a majority vote of 62 percent. But Ian James, co-founder of the Freedom to Marry Coalition, told the Huffington Post that he is optimistic things will be different this time, citing recent polls that show the nation is moving toward support of gay marriage.
Despite promising to
move on after he failed to cancel the $132.8 million streetcar
project, Mayor John Cranley continues criticizing the
project in interviews and social media.
Most recently, Cranley appeared on Local 12’s Newsmakers program and threatened
to eventually replace the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA)
board, which manages local Metro bus services, in response to board members’
defunct offer to take up streetcar operating costs. (City Council sets SORTA
appointments, not the mayor.)
“The fact is they were
willing to cannibalize bus service,” Cranley said,
contrary to SORTA’s insistence that their offer would not have affected bus
services. “I just felt that was a huge violation of what SORTA is supposed to
be about and what Metro is supposed to be about and what public transportation
is supposed to be about.”
Throughout the 24-minute
interview, Cranley referenced the
streetcar project when discussing the city’s parking meters and other subjects
— a continuation of repetitive anti-streetcar tactics Cranley
deployed on the campaign trail and in mayoral debates against former Vice Mayor
“I think the project is
wasteful and not worth the investment,” Cranley said
when asked about the project. “I think we would have been better off making the
hard decision to cut bait.”
Still, Cranley later added, “Obviously, since the supermajority of
council went against my wishes, I have to respect the process. So I’m not going
to try to sabotage the streetcar.”
The interview also
follows comments on social media. After the former head of the Cincinnati Art
Museum criticized the streetcar, Cranley tweeted on Dec. 27, “(N)ow some Orwellian commentators
will say art director not ‘progressive.’”
The continued anti-streetcar rhetoric comes despite promises to move on that Cranley made after Councilman Kevin Flynn announced he would provide the final vote needed to veto-proof City Council’s decision to continue the streetcar project.
“As I tell my son when he doesn’t get his way, it’s time to move on,” Cranley
said on Dec. 19.
heated rhetoric is nothing new in his campaign against the streetcar project.
After the Nov. 5
election, Cranley told The Cincinnati Enquirer
the streetcar debate “is over.” Cranley’s comments
marked a high level of confidence after voters elected a mayor and council
supermajority that seemingly opposed the streetcar project, but his statement
to The Enquirer proved to be wrong after Council Members Flynn, David
Mann and P.G. Sittenfeld decided to continue the
Cranley also called city officials “incompetent” after
they projected that canceling the streetcar project would cost nearly as much as
completing it. Once again, Cranley’s comments proved
to be wrong — an independent audit found city officials were largely correct in
their assessment — but still showed the level of confident, heated rhetoric
that follows the mayor’s campaign against the streetcar project.
At the very least, Cranley’s rhetoric proves that while the policy debate over the streetcar is over for now, the public discussion is not. The question is whether the messaging will work as the project moves forward and the streetcar becomes a reality of Cincinnati.
The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) has threatened to block a move that would allow Cincinnati to use $37.5 million from the 2007 sale of the Blue Ash Airport for projects other than aviation, $11 million of which would go to the Cincinnati streetcar.
The Blue Ash City Council voted Thursday to re-do the sale of 130 acres at the Blue Ash Airport to the City of Cincinnati. COAST says it wants to put the matter before voters in a 2013 referendum, which would halt the sale and re-instate the original agreement made in 2007 when Cincinnati made the sale.
The two cities decided to re-work the $37.5 million sale because a federal rule requires proceeds from the sale of an operating airport to be used for other aviation projects. The money would be returned, airport shut down and then the property re-sold to Blue Ash for the original amount.
“When they originally sold it they were stupid, which is typical of the City of Cincinnati, and did not realize that the proceeds on the sale of the airport have to go to other aviation-type things,” says COAST Chairman Tom Brinkman. “Now that they want to get the streetcar, they want to crack that money.”
Brinkman openly admits he doesn’t want the money to go to the streetcar (“We’re doing everything we can to make sure that boondoggle doesn’t occur”) but says COAST is working with a group of local pilots who want money from the sale to go to Cincinnati’s Lunken Airport.
Blue Ash is confident that the ordinance they passed approving the re-sale isn’t subject to referendum.
“Blue Ash believes everything enacted was lawful and would survive any challenge,” says City Solicitor Brian Pachenco. He declined to discuss specifics
The city wants the airport land to build a park.
Pachenco said the ordinance wasn’t written specifically to exempt it from referendum attempts, but nevertheless it falls under a section of the city’s charter that makes voters unable to recall it.
COAST isn’t so sure.
Chris Finney, legal counsel for COAST, said the buying and selling of land under the Blue Ash charter is subject to referendum. He said the ordinance was written to avoid using that language, but what was happening was in reality a sale.
For its part, Cincinnati doesn’t seem too concerned with the threatened referendum.
“We’re not going to talk 'what ifs' at this point,” city spokeswoman Meg Olberding said. “The streetcar has had two previous referendums that have been shot down.”
She pointed out that only $11 million of the sale was going toward the streetcar, and the remaining money would be available for other projects.
Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Seelbach was also unconcerned.
“COAST and groups like COAST have tried to put up every obstacle possible to prevent the streetcar from happening and we have overcome all of them,” Seelbach said. “I am 100 percent positive if this comes to a vote we will overcome it again and the streetcar will be built.”
The Hamilton County Republican Party endorsed five people Thursday night in this November's elections for Cincinnati City Council.
As expected, the GOP slate includes all three of the party's incumbents: Leslie Ghiz, Charlie Winburn and recent appointee Amy Murray. Also getting the nod were Wayne Lippert and Catherine Smith Mills.
Bill Moller is a city retiree who will be eligible to “double dip” into his pension and a city salary ($147,000 a year) when the city rehires him in February to fill an opening for assistant city manager, city spokesperson Meg Olberding confirmed in an email to CityBeat. Whether he does is entirely up to the interim city manager, Olberding wrote.
The possibility could draw criticism from city officials looking to balance Cincinnati’s structurally imbalanced operating budget. Last year, City Council drew opposition for its decision to hire Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick and allow him to double dip on his pension and a city salary.
Update: Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld said on Twitter that City Council will discuss the personnel changes at Wednesday’s full council meeting, instead of a special session on Thursday as originally planned.
Moller will eventually replace Assistant City Manager David Holmes, who helped oversee efforts for The Banks and 2012 World Choir Games and filed to retire on April 1, Interim City Manager Scott Stiles wrote in a memo to City Council and the mayor.
“At this point in time, Cincinnati needs not only someone who is proficient in all aspects of municipal finance, but in the aspects of the city of Cincinnati’s finances in particular. Mr. Moller has that experience,” Stiles wrote, noting Moller’s budget and finance experience in Cincinnati, Hamilton and Covington.
City Solicitor John Curp will also leave his current position to instead act as chief counsel for the city’s two utilities, the Metropolitan Sewer District and Water Works.
“The utility has been undergoing a merger of back office functions to save ratepayers money, and also has been expanding services and service areas to decrease costs,” Stiles wrote. “John (Curp) has the private sector experience to assist the utilities with a market-oriented approach, and is uniquely positioned to understand both the particulars of MSD and GCWW as well as the areas in which they can expand.”
The move should save ratepayers money by allowing both utilities to rely on Curp instead of outside legal counsel when legal issues arise, according to Stiles.
Although widely praised by city officials, Curp’s move is unsurprising given the politics surrounding Mayor John Cranley’s election. Curp offered legal guidance for the parking privatization plan and streetcar project, both of which Cranley opposes.
Terrence Nestor, currently the city’s chief litigator, will replace Curp as city solicitor until a permanent appointment is made.
Stiles announced other changes as well:
• Markiea Carter, currently a development officer, will move to the city manager’s office to act as assistant to the city manager.
• Karen Alder, currently risk manager for the city, will begin assisting Finance Director Reginald Zeno as the city’s deputy finance director.
Stiles is currently filling as interim city manager while the city conducts a nationwide search for a permanent replacement to former City Manager Milton Dohoney. Stiles could apply for the permanent role, but his application would need City Council support to win out over other potential candidates.
The city expects the city manager search to last through June, at which point further administrative changes could be expected if the city hires a new permanent city manager.